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Hartselle City Councilman Bill Drake and school board member Jennifer Sittason  discuss the resolution, tabled by the council, that would allow a vote on a property tax increase to build a new school in Hartselle.
Daily photo by Jonathan Palmer
Hartselle City Councilman Bill Drake and school board member Jennifer Sittason discuss the resolution, tabled by the council, that would allow a vote on a property tax increase to build a new school in Hartselle.

Property tax
boost stalled

Hartselle Council tables resolution to allow vote on increase

By Deangelo McDaniel 340-2469

HARTSELLE — Unless Rep. Ronald Grantland changes his mind about unanimous City Council support for local legislation, Hartselle residents will not vote on a property tax increase for a new high school.

Saying a majority of Hartselle voters didn't ask to decide a tax increase, Councilman Bill Drake convinced a unanimous council to table a resolution asking for a local bill enabling the vote.

Grantland, D-Hartselle, and Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, have said they will not introduce the bill unless a unanimous council adopts the resolution asking for it.

At City Attorney Larry Madison's request, the council approved Drake's motion to table the resolution.

"By tabling it, you can bring it up again," Madison told the council.

"If anybody here thinks for a second that I am not for the Hartselle school system, they are wrong," Drake said. "All I'm saying is the majority of the people we represent didn't ask for this vote."

Drake said proponents of the school tax should get a petition and present it to the council, as residents did in 2002, when Hartselle voted on a wet-dry referendum.

After the meeting, Drake and school board member Jennifer Sittason talked for about 15 minutes about what direction Hartselle should take.

"I'm going to hold you accountable, since you stopped this vote," Sittason told Drake.

"I didn't stop this vote," he said. "Like I told you, I don't have any evidence that a majority of the voters want this."

Grantland said last week that he wanted to introduce the bill in the current legislative session, which ends June 15.

Madison said Tuesday's vote is not fatal to the legislation, "but, the window of opportunity is closing."

Superintendent William Michael Reed and four school board members attended the council meeting.

Reed, clearly disappointed after the meeting, said the need for a high school is not going away.

"The kids are still bursting out the door at the junior high. We're going to have to do something," he said.

Madison encouraged school leaders to "politic" Grantland because neither state law nor the Legislature requires unanimous consent from the council.

"I talked with him yesterday, and he said he would not do it without unanimity," Council President Kenny Thompson said.

"May be there is a good reason for the unanimous consent that I'm not seeing, but maybe it's time for them (legislators) to rethink that," Councilman Mark Mizell said.

Hartselle resident Jeanette Groover commended Drake for his stance. She supports a new high school, but said the city must find a better way to fund it than a property tax increase.

"There are people who can't afford their medication in this town," Groover said.

Drake dismissed what he said were rumors about why he opposed the resolution. He said there was no truth to the rumor that he had a vendetta regarding the council's appointment of Sittason to the school board. He voted against the appointment.

He said there were questions he needed answered, like the impact the tax would have on businesses and vehicles.

Madison said the tax affects real property only.

Reed said last week that passing the tax would be difficult.

"But this is something we can do," Reed said April 9. "We're going to do this. I have no doubt about that."

Reed helped pass new taxes to construct two middle schools and a high school while a superintendent in Mississippi. His experience with passing taxes is one of the reasons the school board members cited when they extended his contract one year and increased his salary to $116,000 annually last year.

Sittason, who is chairwoman of the pro-tax campaign, said she's not giving up on the tax vote.

In two previous elections for new school taxes, Hartselle voters overwhelmingly said no.

Hartselle voted no in 1990 on a tax increase to help construct Barkley Bridge Elementary. And in 2004, a property tax increase that would have been split between the city and the school system failed.

If the proposed 12.5-mill increase passes, Hartselle residents would pay the highest property taxes, 51.9 mills, in Morgan County. Decatur residents would pay the second highest, 45.3 mills.

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